A Quick Interview with Mike Howard

Protecting the C-Suite from the Tax Man
November 12, 2016
Close Protection Conference 2016 Survey Results
January 29, 2017

mike howard microsoft chief security officerWhat do you think will be important in the future of the Executive Protection (EP) industry? 

Mike Howard: The evolution of the Executive Protection profession goes beyond just having the essential tactical skills. There is already beginning to be an emphasis on business acumen and executive presence. Practitioners will be looked at as bodyguards but also as trusted advisors to their assigned executive. The evolution of the EP profession mirrors changes within the Corporate Security industry – we are no longer guns, guards, and gates but security practitioners who are now considered trusted business professionals. I also continue to be excited about new technology and how it will play a role in the industry. As technology evolves, it will better assist with advances and keeping track of principals.

Speaking of emerging technology, what would you like to see for the industry?  

MH: Like Microsoft’s Global Security Operations Centers (GSOC); you first need a strategy before employing or developing technology. This strategic view should be integrated into any technological upgrades, as well as the opportunity to leverage mobile communications. Technology can be used to aggregate protective intelligence. Using big data, tools such as Microsoft Power BI (Business Intelligence) can help to better visualize and assess data and threats against executives and assets. All companies should consider conducting a strategic review of what they need and why. You should not go after every bright and shiny new technology but decide what best fits into your strategic plan.

Besides James Bond, who has influenced your live and career the most? 

MH: Several people have influenced my career. I had a strong supervisor at the CIA, a former Marine Colonel who fought in Vietnam. This individual mentored a new generation of leadership, and also provided me my first leadership position. There was also a senior woman at the CIA who worked with me in Personnel when I took a break from Operations. She managed career development at CIA and I learned a lot from her about mentoring and business, which I have utilized throughout my career.

I also admire leaders like Colin Powell for his leadership principals and Abraham Lincoln, who was successful as a leader during difficult times. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn from Ret. General Stan McChrystal. I have been a fan of Gen. McChrystal for a long time and his principles on breaking down silos in organizations. I also admire Ronald Reagan, specifically the way he led and comported himself as a leader.

As you were growing up, what were young Mike Howard’s dreams and goals? What has inspired you to succeed?

MH: As for motivation, I watched a lot of cop shows as a kid. I always wanted to be a cop or a secret agent and never strayed from that dream. I graduated with a Criminal Justice Administration degree from San Jose State University, and then fulfilled my dream by working at the Oakland Police Department. After reading a book about the operations of The Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), I decided to join the CIA to see the world, and spent 22 years there before transitioning to the private sector.

I get my drive to succeed from my Mom, who always pushed me to do well in school. Both of my parents always encouraged me to go to college. To be successful in life, I believe you need a drive within you and a hunger to push you. It’s not enough to be great – you should be uncomfortable; you should take risks. Additionally, you want to model these growth mindset behaviors to your troops.

How do you keep your feelings separate during the decision-making process? Or do you?

MH: I try not to let my feelings intrude when making business-related decisions. I try to look at things objectively and reviews the facts, then go with my best judgment. Once in a while, I find my own experience and feelings may help me make a decision. However, in general, your feelings cannot be factored in when you need to make the right decision for the business. Friendships cannot factor in when making business decisions, it has to be what is right for the business.

How do you go about building/maintaining your network?

MH: Networking can be a challenge as EP is very specialized and often segmented from the rest of the security industry. First, you should network within the EP profession. Next, in order to expand your career and move beyond being only an EP operator, broaden your security network into other security organizations such as ASIS and obtain your CPP to network more within the entire industry. You should also take training seminars and classes, as well as be involved in industry committee work and speaking engagements as appropriate. In addition, use social media and engage in LinkedIn and Twitter to expand your professional network.

To maintain your network, engage as much as possible in the industry, participate in conferences and activities to maintain your network, but remember this is only second to your day job. Don’t ever limit yourself or your career. In my career, I used a combination of organizational involvement, maintaining professional contacts, and being active in committees and boards, along with involvement on social media.

What was your biggest professional fear? And how have you overcome it?

MH: My biggest professional fear was public speaking, although you wouldn’t know it today. As I was growing up in school I would always participate in written assignments and avoid anything verbal. I didn’t really start speaking in public until I became the CSO of Microsoft and partook in industry-related speeches. To overcome my fear, I read books by speakers I admired and practiced intensively. In my early years, I would set up boxes and paint faces on them in a conference room in order to practice how to speak in front of an audience. I believe in confronting fears by practicing, and the more you practice, the better you will be. Public speaking is a perishable skill, like shooting firearms, but now it is second nature.

Final thoughts from Mike Howard:

I support those security professionals who want to get started in the EP business. EP professionals are often the face of the security organization as they deal directly with the C-suite. As such, remember that you are the representative of how security is viewed by non-security individuals. How you comport yourself as a professional can influence how others see the EP industry and security in general. It is a very important professional responsibility; you need to have the right skills and temperament to enable the business and protect individuals.